SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Perhaps Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar has the best description of shortstop Alcides Escobar.
"It seems like there are 10 of him out there because he's so athletic, he moves so well," Hochevar said.
Hochevar and other Royals pitchers form an unofficial but enthusiastic Alcides Escobar Fan Club. After all, they are the prime beneficiaries of his fielding excellence.
"They always tell you to let your defense work for you, let your defense help you out. When you've got guys like that, it's easier to buy into that. He's so good, he's got so much range. He can do so much. He's unbelievable out there," said left-hander Will Smith.
"He's like a magician. He makes these plays and you're like, 'Wow! He did it again!'"
Escobar, at 26, is rapidly moving into the elite of Major League shortstops, especially since his hitting and baserunning have improved markedly, making him an all-round player. And perhaps an all-something else.
"I trust in myself, I know I can be a superstar, and can be in the All-Star Game," Escobar said.
Obviously Escobar does not lack in confidence. Why should he? Last year the only shortstop in the Majors that surpassed his .293 average was the Yankees' Derek Jeter (.316).
That's pretty good company.
"I know I'm capable of doing well, but Jeter is the best right now, and one day I want to be like him," Escobar said. "He's the captain, he's everything. He's a great guy. He's a superstar -- a great example to follow."
Until Miguel Tejada left the Royals' camp to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, Escobar was absorbing knowledge from the former Most Valuable Player and six-time All-Star at shortstop.
"This Miguel Tejada is an unbelievable guy," Escobar said. "He talks to me a lot and says, 'Esky, try to do this,' or 'try to do that.' And I listen to him because he was MVP and he played for like 15 years in the big leagues. He knows what he's doing in this game."
Escobar knows his Tejada history pretty well.
"When he played shortstop, he played like 162 games every year. He never took a day off. I like that. I like to play," Escobar said.
He sure does. He's played 158 and 155 games in his two years with the Royals, taking a seat only reluctantly.
"There's a difference between wanting to play every day and having the ability to play every day, and he has both," manager Ned Yost said.
Life on the bench is not for him. Escobar wanted to be playing for Venezuela in the Classic until he heard the particulars.
"Those guys called me and they wanted me on the team to play defense late in the game and be a pinch runner," Escobar said. "I said, no, I didn't want to go like that. If I go, I want to play. I don't want to stay on the bench."
Venezuela officials already had shortstops Asdrubal Cabrera and Elvis Andrus on the team. Escobar politely said no, preferring to concentrate his efforts in the Royals' camp.
That's fine with Hochevar.
"He covers so much ground, has such a great arm. And we need him in the lineup, too. He stole 35 bags last year, hit almost .300 -- he's something else," Hochevar said. "Especially for a pitcher having him back there, you know that any ball hit to the left side, between him and Moose [Mike Moustakas], it's getting picked. If it gets through, it is that hitter's lucky day."
The defense was always there for Escobar. It's the offense that came later, noticeably through Yost's stubborn insistence on keeping Esky at the plate in tough situations during the 2011 season.
"You look at his offensive package and he can bunt, he's our best hit-and-run guy, he can spray the ball to all fields," Yost said. "He's getting bigger, stronger, he can drive the ball over the fence a little bit more."
Strong and durable, too.
"He's the one guy you don't ever see wearing down," Yost said.
Moustakas has emerged as a stellar third baseman defensively, but he knows if he can't reach a ground ball to his left, Escobar will probably be there.
"It's awesome," Moustakas said. "Sometimes I get caught staring at what he's doing and I'm not in the right position. I'll just be standing there watching him make a play and I'll forget I have to be covering third or something. Some of the balls he gets to, it's insane."
Maybe it's because there are really 10 of him out there.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less